“Not seeing victims only from one side”
by Aurore Engelen
- In God's Horses, recently awarded two prizes in Namur, director Nabil Ayouch looks at the origins of the attacks that shook Casablanca in May 2003.
Cineuropa: How was filming in the slums?
Nabil Ayouch: It was crucial to respect the neighbourhood and its inhabitants. We started by telling the story to the inhabitants. It was important to talk to them, tell them what film we wanted to make and how, as well as what our point of view would be. To explain to them that we didn’t want to make these young boys into superheroes, that we were not going to forgive the unforgivable, but that it was important to give faces, stories to these young boys who became suicide bombers. Even if it’s clear that these inhabitants are marginalised and stigmatised by society, with the film, we contributed to the slum’s economy, whether by building decors, or employing assistants or extras. We were able to establish a relationship of trust with the inhabitants. It wasn’t easy every day, as misery automatically brings violence. Some nights were very complicated for the team. While most inhabitants were happy that we were there, a minority led by the Salafis was clearly not and made us feel it.
The film is striking by the way it distances itself and does not judge these young suicide bombers.
The intention wasn’t to judge these youth, who are also canon fodder. They are turned into what they are by an economic context, by texts. They are also victims. It would be too easy to judge them. The idea is to give the means to a better understanding. You don't become a suicide bomber just because you are poor. You are not born a suicide bomber, you become one.
You show a society that doesn’t leave much place for love, or even intimacy.
People's relationship to sex is completely biased in this society. There is no right to intimacy outside marriage. Love is held at a distance, love is impossible. Yet, love is the only thing that might have saved them as implied by the forbidden relationship between Yachine and Ghislaine. People are not allowed to love and be loved. So sexual learning happens between women, or between men. Which is why you have sorts of rites of passage, that sometimes derail into rape.
Why tell this story today?
I did not make this film in a rush, it’s not the way I work. I took a lot of time to think about how to tackle the subject of these youth who had committed a horrific crime and who lived only a few kilometres away from my home. The day after May 16, 2003, I made a 15-minute documentary about the victims of the bombings. I got it a little wrong, seeing the victims only from one side. I worked on the ground with inhabitants, civil society, sociologists. You can’t say just anything about religion. The idea was not to stigmatise Islam. Taking a certain distance was fundamental to avoid being heavy. I started writing the screenplay before finding Mahi Binebine’s book. I found there a point of view that resembled the one I wanted to adopt, I found human stories, bodies, faces. It’s important today that the film circulate around the Arab world. I believe in the public's intelligence, if you respectfully call on this intelligence, if you use language that can appeal to it. The film has been sold in the Arab world and is to be released in Morocco next January, at the same time as in Europe.